OSU: Eczema Genetics Mystery Solved? New Potential for Better Therapies

If you suffer from atopic eczema—that chronic, itchy, sometimes blistery, and oft-painful skin rash that afflicts more than 15 million Americans—then get excited. OSU researchers have identified a gene product that may play an important role in the autoimmune disease, and their breakthrough findings could lead to greatly improved treatments.

Ten to twenty percent of the US population will be diagnosed with atopic eczema in childhood—and for many, symptoms of the disease will have essentially faded by adulthood. But often the disease persists throughout a person’s lifetime. Although non-steroidal topical eczema treatments exist, steroid drugs—particularly glucocorticosteroids—are still commonly used to treat the disorder. But long-term use of oral and topical steroid medications, which suppress the immune system, can have potentially dangerous side-effects, including skin damage, hypertension, osteoporosis, and liver damage. Additionally, the chronic presence of open skin sores leads to infections for many sufferers.

“With a better understanding of just what is causing eczema on a genetic basis, we should be able to personalize treatments, determine exactly what each person needs, and develop new therapies,” Arup Indra, an associate professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy, told OSU.

Indra and colleagues discovered two mechanisms by which the protein Ctip2, which controls lipid biosynthesis in the skin, may induce symptoms of eczema. A reduction in levels of Ctip2 results in decreased lipid production—and loss of these important fats results in dehydrated, unhealthy skin. At the same time, Ctip2 suppresses a cytokine protein, TSLP, that can trigger inflammation. Laboratory animals that do not express Ctip2 exhibit TSLP levels 1,000 times that of a normal individual.

“Either or both of these problems can lead to eczema,” Indra added.

The results of Indra’s study were published online on Dec. 20 in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, and are amongst the very first to directly link Ctip2 and its regulation of TSLP to eczema

by Genevieve Weber